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United States v. Fleming

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

October 13, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
EUGENIA FLEMING, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Robert E. Payne Senior United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on DEFENDANT FLEMING'S MOTION IN LIMINE (ECF No. 97). For the reasons set forth below, this motion will be denied.

         BACKGROUND

         Defendant is one of six defendants named in a seven-count Indictment filed on March 8, 2017. ECF No. 3 (Under Seal). She was charged in three counts: Count One, Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud, id. ¶ 181; Count Five, Use of Fire to Commit a Federal Felony, id. ¶ 191; and Count Six, False Statement, id. ¶ 194. Specifically, the United States alleged that:

• Defendant and Verdon Taylor purchased a 2002 Dodge Stratus in December 2007, and it was damaged by a fire on or around September 4, 2008. Defendant then filed an insurance claim on the car. Id. ¶¶ 67-70. Defendant also falsely stated to special agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives that she was alone in the car at the time of the fire, when in fact a man was in the car with her then. Id. ¶ 194;
• Investigators found a receipt for a prepaid cellular phone in Defendant's name in a Dodge Caravan in the backyard of 6403 Dan Street-a rental property occupied by co-defendant Sylvia Mitchell-following a fire there on or around December 12, 2008. Id. ¶ 91(e); and
• Defendant was the tenant of a rental property at 3007 Q Street, which was damaged by a fire on or around February 28, 2009. Defendant then filed an insurance claim on the property. Id. ¶¶ 94-97.

         In addition, although not alleged in the Indictment, the United States has evidence indicating that: Defendant purchased a mobile home at 20291 Boydton Plank Road in McKenney, Virginia in November 2013; the home was destroyed by fire on May 5, 2014; and Defendant then filed an insurance claim on the property. See Mot. at 2; Gov't Response (ECF No. 101) at 2.

         Defendant now moves to exclude at trial evidence relating to these allegations.

         DISCUSSION

         Evidence must be relevant to be admissible. See Fed.R.Evid. 402. Evidence is relevant if "it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence, " and "the fact is of consequence in determining the action." Id. 401. This standard is a "low barrier to admissibility"; to satisfy it, "evidence need only be 'worth consideration by the jury, ' or have a 'plus value.'" United States v. Leftenant, 341 F.3d 338, 346 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting United States v. Queen, 132 F.3d 991, 998 (4th Cir. 1997)). If evidence is relevant, the Court can still exclude it if "its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of . . . unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence." Fed.R.Evid. 403.

         In addition, even if it is relevant, "[e]vidence of a crime, wrong, or other act is not admissible to prove a person's character in order to show that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character." Id. 404(b)(1). Such evidence may, however, "be admissible for another purpose, such as proving motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident." Id. 404(b)(2). Rule 404(b) only pertains to "other acts extrinsic to the one charged." United States v. Chin, 83 F.3d 83, 87-88 (4th Cir. 1996). If evidence "is admitted as to acts intrinsic to the crime charged, and is not admitted solely to demonstrate bad character, it is admissible." Id. Evidence of bad acts is intrinsic if, among other things, it involves "the same 'series of transactions as the charged offense, '" United States v. Otuya, 720 F.3d 183, 188 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting United States v. Kennedy, 32 F.3d 876, 885 (4th Cir. 1994)), or "the other acts were necessary preliminaries to the crime charged, " Chin, 83 F.3d at 88 (internal quotations omitted).

         Defendant seeks to preclude the United States from mentioning at trial, in any form: (1) the fires involving the Dodge Stratus, the Q Street property, and the mobile home at Boydton Plank Road; and (2) the receipt for a prepaid cell phone in Defendant's name found after the fire at 6403 Dan Street. Defendant's request seems to be based on two grounds. First, this evidence relates to fires "in which arson cannot be proven" and is therefore irrelevant to Defendant's conspiracy charge under Rule 402, since "[o]bviously the insurance claims [submitted by Defendant] were not fraudulent if the causes of the fires were accidental, suspicious or undetermined, as opposed to deliberate." Mot. at 3. Second, even if that evidence is relevant, the United States will seek to admit the evidence under Rule 404(b), and the Court should exclude it under Rule 403 because asking the jury to "infer knowledge, motive, opportunity or intent from the mere number of fires, [Defendant]' s association with V[e]rdon Taylor, and ownership interest in the properties. . . . invites speculation and improper innuendos which will result in unfair prejudice and confusion of the issues." Id. at 4.

         I. ...


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